I've been busy. I've been after the in-breaking of Critical Realism in literary theory. Here's why:
In 1975, Roy Bhaskar, a philosopher of science, published A Realist Theory of Science, in which he affirms fallibism (he acknowledges that knowledge is socially constructed and relativistic). He maintains, however, that there exists an objective reality quite independent of our knowledge of it, and that this reality is stratified, with layers of depth that subjective knowledge can penetrate while never reaching the bottom. After subsequent publications, and after breaking into the field of sociology, Bhaskar's theories became known as Critical Realism. I contend that Critical Realism should also break into literature in order to provide a counter to the post-postmodern condition in three ways: By resurrecting the human agent from her burial under socialization, by providing a model for coping with the arbitrariness of signs, and by providing a method for provisionally evaluating truth propositions.
Margaret Archer, a prominent Critical Realist sociologist, terms the subject buried under socialization Society's Being: "Society's Being thus impoverishes humanity, by subtracting from our human powers and accrediting all of them--selfhood, reflexivity, thought, memory, emotionality and belief--to society's discourse." And yet, Archer argues that “Society's being requires [a] sense of self in order for a social agent to know that social obligations pertain to her.” This self is what prioritizes between physical wellbeing, performative skill in the workplace, and social self-worth. The self is not subsumed by social identity; they are placed in a dialectical relationship. Archer would no doubt prescribe that we turn off the television long enough to spend some time thinking for ourselves instead of being blinded by a flood of images.
Norman Fairclough, Bob Jessop, and Andrew Sayer have embarked on a project to integrate semiosis (the creation of meaning) into Critical Realism's account of social structure. They would argue that the arbitrary nature of signs has been so problematic because hermeneutics has focused solely on determining the meaning of a text. Their solution is to give even-handed attention to the effects of words by considering them more like chemicals in a complex reaction, to validate the extra-semiotic dimension of reading, and realize that meaning is not found in words but the subjects who read them. They would advise us to quit fixating on words as symbols which may or may not point to objects in the world, and to instead realize that words are more like events which take place in socially situated contexts.
Ruth Groff is a Critical Realist whose most recent monograph expounds upon a theory of truth which posits that propositions are true if and only if what they claim is actually the case. Because all knowledge is theory-laden and therefore fallible, propositions can never be said to be definitively true. Groff believes, however, that we can be reasonably justified in believing a proposition is true when any opposing propositions that can be falsified have been eliminated, when any remaining propositions wield less explanatory power, and when an interdisciplinary consensus has been reached that belief in a given proposition is justified. She might advise us to quit opting out of passing provisional judgment on things.
I recently presented this in the context of a paper at the South Central MLA.
5 years ago